Sydney New Year’s Eve fireworks to go ahead despite fires
Rural Fire Service volunteers who have spent 10 days battling blazes in worst-hit New South Wales state will receive compensation
Sydney’s famous New Year’s Eve firework display will go ahead despite the wildfire crisis to show the world Australia’s resiliency, the prime minister said on Sunday, while authorities braced for conditions to deteriorate with high temperatures.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison also announced financial support for some volunteer firefighters in New South Wales, the state worst hit by wildfires ravaging the nation.
“The world looks at Sydney every single year and they look at our vibrancy, they look at our passion, they look at our success,” he said. “In the midst of the challenges that we face, subject to the safety considerations, I can think of no better time to express to the world just how optimistic and positive we are as a country.”
The City of Sydney Council gave the green light although fire authorities warned that the fireworks could be cancelled if catastrophic conditions are declared.
The prime minister said that volunteer firefighters in Australia will also be offered government compensation after spending extended periods fighting bushfires raging across the country.
Rural Fire Service volunteers who have spent at least 10 days battling blazes in worst-hit New South Wales (NSW) state are immediately eligible for the scheme, which offers payments of up to $209 (Dh 767) per day for a maximum of nearly $4,200 per person (Dh 15,426).
He said that the compensation would focus on people who are self-employed or work for small and medium businesses.
“The early and prolonged nature of this fire season has made a call beyond what is typically made on our volunteer firefighters,” he said.
"While I know RFS volunteers don't seek payment for their service, I don't want to see volunteers or their families unable to pay bills or struggle financially as a result of the selfless contribution they are making," Mr Morrison added.
"This is not about paying volunteers. It is about sustaining our volunteer efforts by protecting them from financial loss."
Mr Morrison said the compensation scheme would be rolled out across other Australian states and territories if local authorities requested that assistance.
"They run their own shows; they know what their challenges are," he said of the state governments.
The scheme is expected to cost about $34 million in NSW, which boasts the world's largest volunteer fire service at 70,000 people.
Volunteers who are also government employees were granted additional paid leave to help fight the blazes last week.
Mr Morrison has come under increasing pressure in recent weeks over his response to the bushfire crisis, which has killed 10 people, destroyed hundreds of homes and scorched more than 3 million hectares.
The prime minister was forced to apologise for taking a family holiday to Hawaii as Australia battled the bushfires, a decision that sparked public outrage and prompted street protests.
Temperatures are set to soar again across large parts of south-eastern Australia, with elevated fire danger expected in the lead-up to New Year's Day.
People were ordered to evacuate Victoria state's East Gippsland region Sunday amid concerns three large blazes sparked over a month ago could burn out of control.
Victoria's Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said the more than 30,000 people in the popular tourist region should "leave now", as fires could force the closure of the last major road still open.
"What we're saying now with the conditions that will be confronting us tomorrow... is if you're holidaying in that part of the state, it's time you left," Mr Crisp said, while urging local residents to do the same.
A major music festival was also cancelled ahead of the forecast extreme weather conditions, with 9,000 people asked to leave the Falls Festival campsite in Lorne due to the risk of bushfires, smoke haze and severe winds.
Severe thunderstorms and damaging wind gusts are predicted for neighbouring South Australia state, where multiple fires are raging and the bushfire danger will be extreme in several areas Monday.
Firefighters are also bracing for bushfire conditions to worsen during the week in NSW, where 95 blazes were burning Sunday, including 48 uncontained.
Updated: December 29, 2019 05:58 PM